An important issue of justice and particularly justice affecting children, was raised in a New York Times opinion piece by Harvey Fierstein writing about a 16 year old child placed in solitary confinement in the New York Correctional Institution for Women, Connecticut. But she was not charged, tried or convicted. So what was her crime?
With her father incarcerated and her mother addicted to heroin, crack cocaine and alcohol, the girl — who is referred to simply as Jane Doe, to protect her identity as a minor — had been passed among family members since she was 5 years old. They repeatedly raped, tortured and even prostituted her.
At last, rescued by Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families, she was placed in a foster care facility, where she was raped by a fellow resident and forced to have sex with a staff member. When she fought back, she was punished. When caught involuntarily performing sex acts, she was punished. Jane was then placed at a residential facility in Massachusetts, but the sexual assaults continued at the hand of a worker entrusted with her care.
Finally, on April 8 the state of Connecticut placed her in a mental-ward cell, for her own protection. She is alone for up to 23 hours a day. Joette Katz, the commissioner of the state’s Department of Children and Families, said in The Hartford Courant that she had no choice but to incarcerate Jane because it was “the only acceptable option to ensure the safety of the other youths for whom I am responsible.”
You see, Jane can be violent. She has fought with other children and with staff members wherever she’s been placed. But given her history, how could she survive by being anything but violent? Where, in her entire life, would this child have ever learned anything except to fight back? And how is placing her in an adult prison — where aggression, savagery and intimidation are the everyday tools needed to survive — going to help her heal?
It’s not enough to recount the torment she has endured. If we want to stop the cycle of brutality, we have to ask why the heavens rained down on this child. I believe it is because Jane is transgender.
Jane was born a boy. She began exhibiting feminine characteristics from age 5, and by the time she was 9 she knew that she was, in fact, a girl. Born into a society where blending gender lines was unacceptable, where God and preachers condemn, Jane didn’t have a chance.